As I said in my reflection about existential crisis, there are many people - especially those in their 20s and 30s - struggling with trying to get their relationships, career, or emotional lives to a good place. But instead things are not going well and they are in distress. Half the problem is that it is all so confusing - there's this sense that some essential thing is being missed.
It's not like people don't try to work through this. Many of my clients have previously seen psychologists on a Medicare plan, or have taken medication, or taken up yoga or health regimes, or read all the books, and so on and so on. And here they are, say at 30, and it's still not working and they're not getting any younger.
People in this situation often fear they will end up alone. Or spend decades in work they secretly hate. Or that they will spend their lives depressed, or anxious, or even suicidal. And the trouble is that if they look back over their adult years before now, they see a pattern that seems to predict this.
Something that my experience as a philosopher, counsellor, and human being have absolutely assured me of, is that things are mostly less complicated than we realise. We complicate things. We lose clarity, as we look at the world through our chaotic haze of confusion, fear, and distress. But reality is there, doing its own thing, and it's possible for us to clear our vision and work with it.
And that's what I focus on in counselling. The reason that self-help books are often ineffective is because you have to find your through these things yourself, in terms of your individual place in the world, and way of being. However there are solid principles to follow which are age-old. So in counselling we draw on these principles but do the individual work you need. We work with reality, with the realities you face, to turn things around.
The trouble is that people tend to fixate on our surface problems - relationships, career, emotional struggles - without realising the underlying causes or conditions that structure these surface issues. For many people the surface struggles reflect a lack of clear, solid direction or purpose in their lives. We used to get these through social and religious conventions, but that is no longer the case, and of course we are right to avoid having them dictated to us mindlessly. You need to author your own life.
By finding your direction and purpose in life, and as early as possible, you can set to work on building a gratifying and meaningful life - a story or arc over the longer term. You can find the power to steer life to reflect your desires. In this context you can enjoy the journey as you go. In this way as you move forward through time you create a past which is good to remember and a future which is hopeful.
But what is direction and purpose?
Direction is about knowing what to do with your life. Should you have children? How will that work with your career, and should you preference that instead? Should your commit to your current partner? Are you better off single? How do you even start, and maintain, a good relationship? How do you find meaningful work?
Or perhaps everything has come together and yet "something is missing." Which leads on to the problem of purpose.
Purpose is about meaning. You are going to age and die. You are going to suffer, or even just struggle at times. And even in the good times pleasure and wealth are not enough. What makes life worthwhile? How do you gain a deeper sense of satisfaction? How do you become the person that you want - and feel a need - to be? How do you find a genuine sense of meaning?
This lack of direction or purpose is a recipe for distress. It leaves people feeling confused, anxious, and despairing.
It feels like a unique problem, that there is something wrong with you in particular. When in fact it is really common. Older generations used to guide younger ones in these things, based on their lived experience with the same universal problems. But contemporary society neglects this altruistic focus. The Baby Boomers were known as the "Me Generation," and in our messy lives we are living the consequences of that neglect.
At the heart of finding direction and purpose is the removal of obstructions, which is often a psychological task. Hence counselling. And the building up of clarity, then a vision, then a plan, which is both philosophical and psychological. The essence here is to find a path forward which fits your deeper desires and values. I do not dictate what your purpose and direction will be, rather I help you see deeply inside yourself, to your wants and needs. And then we focus on action: making all of this become a reality as the weeks and months go by.
At the risk of sounding new-agey, the truth is that the world is an abundant place. Much of our lack is a consequence of how we filter the world. And much of our growth and the good things that come to us happen in the same way. We filter the world through our perceptions, emotions, and actions and way of being. Through insight and commitment and practice we can re-orient ourselves, in such a way that what we really want, or really need, can show up in our lives. It's a matter of doing the work. In my opinion, speaking for myself, once we achieve a modicum of clarity and control, then it becomes a joyful work.